The Simple, Powerful Guide to Forming Any New Habit

I want to share an important truth about life. This one thing can mean tragedy or bliss for you, depending on how you act on it. Ready? Here it is.

Our habits become our lives.

Everything you want to do each day results from actions you repeat and routines you develop.

If you can muster the self-discipline to create habits of personal growth, you’ll move mountains. You will prosper and know real happiness.

On the other hand, if you plummet into the dark cave of toxic habits and can’t escape, you will wind up trapped in a life of dissatisfaction and despair.

Beach Happiness
Photo Credit: Breahn Foster (Creative Commons)

My Story

Three years ago, I was overweight and addicted to a sedentary lifestyle. I was accomplishing the bare minimum in college and wasn’t confident in who I was.

I knew I was living unhealthily and could be doing more with my time, but it was so much easier to keep doing more of the same. I wanted to gain self-confidence, but I didn’t know where to begin.

I finally decided to make a positive change. With the help of a friend, I slowly developed an exercise habit. Over time, this one great habit sparked many other life changes.

I ended up losing 45 pounds of fat and gaining 20 pounds of muscle. I started eating a balanced diet and gave up TV and video games. I de-cluttered my living space and became way more productive. I developed unflappable self-confidence and began reading and writing every day.

What I Learned

From this experience, I learned that the key to defeating bad habits is discovering the joys of better ones. Introducing even one beneficial habit into your life can start a chain reaction and transform your mindset.

By establishing one positive habit, you gain the knowledge and reassurance to duplicate it. One by one, you can replace harmful actions with rewarding habits.

This brief guide teaches you all you need to know to form any new habit. Remember: Many small changes add up to big life renovations.

Bookmark and reference it down the road if you’re not ready yet or think it’ll come in handy again later. Remember, I can tell you what to do. It’s up to you to be dedicated and do the work.

The Life-Changing Guide

1. Make a commitment.

It sounds intimidating to “commit” to something, but new habit formation requires a serious mindset. Promise yourself you’re going to make an honest, dedicated effort.

Do it: Think of one thing you’ve wanted to begin doing in your life. Visualize yourself doing it regularly. Now, decide firmly that you’re going to work towards that vision.

2. Start really small.

A lot of folks try to do too much overnight and become overwhelmed. You must begin with an exceptionally manageable task and work up from there.

For an exercise habit, this could mean walking around the block twice a week. For a writing habit, this may be writing something each day, even if it’s one sentence. Think tiny.

Do it: Brainstorm the simplest action you can do daily or weekly to prime yourself for your new habit. You cannot start too small. Make up your mind, and do it this week, or today even.

3. Find a trigger.

A trigger is an event stimulus that precedes the action of a habit. An example of a trigger could be getting out of the shower, which prompts you to brush your teeth. It’s helpful to align the practice of a new habit with a potential trigger.

After a while, the trigger will begin to naturally initiate the habit-doing mentality. If you’re trying to meditate in the morning, waking up might be your trigger. If you want to start going to bed earlier, reading a book for half an hour may be the ticket.

Do it: Figure out a trigger that can happen as often as the habit practice you want to form. The best triggers are events already in place. Be creative, and start performing your habit every time, immediately after you ‘trigger’ it.

4. Seek positive support.

Motivation is crucial to developing a new habit, and encouragement from other people is the most potent motivator. If exercising, find a partner. If writing, look for a community. If starting a website, tell a few friends.

Inspiration is positivity we seek out to keep ourselves energized. Find powerful quotes, moving songs, or other forms of art that fire you up and remind you why it’s worth it.

Do it: Before starting your new habit:

1) Establish the peer group or friend(s) who will be there to support you.

2) Build up an armory of inspiration. This could mean making a pump-up playlist in iTunes, bookmarking uplifting websites, buying a few great books, or sticky-noting powerful quotes above your desk. Seek out diverse sources to inflame your passion.

5. Build up gradually.

Set out a schedule of how you’ll increase time spent practicing your habit in the coming weeks. Add a little more time each week or every other week until you reach a point where you’re satisfied with how often you’re doing the activity.

For example, let’s say you’re starting to exercise, and you’re shooting for 4-5 times per week. You might start with 1 time per week for two weeks, then 2-3 times per week for two weeks, and so on. The key is to climb the peak slowly, not overnight.

Do it: Consider your attitude and time commitments, and plan out how great of weekly or bi-weekly increase in habit time seems feasible and appropriate for you.

6. Reward yourself.

When you successfully devote some time to your new habit, give yourself a reward, even if ever so small. Every time I finish working out, I reward myself with a half hour of relaxation time in the sauna to read or meditate.

Do it: Come up with a simple, enticing reward. It might be something you only let yourself do after your habit, like listen to your favorite band or take a nap. Think outside the box.

7. Write down your plan.

Put down on paper your trigger, your reward, who’s supporting you, why you’re committed, your schedule for increase, and anything else you believe is relevant to your success. Take this task seriously and focus on specifics.

Do it: I suggest typing up the plan, printing it off, and hanging it where you’ll see it every day. This is your manifesto, your declaration of dedication. Let it be your guiding hand.

8. Give it 8 weeks.

I can’t stress enough that habits don’t change overnight and that real effort and perseverance are necessary. In my experience, 6-8 weeks of sticking to your schedule will be sufficient for the habit to begin to feel natural in your daily routine.

Do it: Stick with it for 56 days. Don’t concentrate on some magical end result. Focus only on today, and take pride in each little victory. Celebrate the awesome fact that you’re doing something to change your life.


If you’re ready to completely change your habits, check out 30 Challenges to Enlightenment, a course I helped create.

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Wishing you the best on your journey…

Staying dedicated to a habit is no easy task. Even after years of practice, you still have to be conscientious each day.

If you keep taking action for long enough, you realize the immense value that lies in the struggle.

Everything worth gaining in life is worth earning. Only by challenging ourselves to learn and grow do we discover our most priceless treasure.

I’m here for you, and this blog is here for you. Be strong, stay golden, and believe in yourself.  You are capable of so much more than you know.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
— Marianne Williamson

Have you had success with these tips? What else has worked for you? Comment below.


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Profile photo of Jordan Bates

About Jordan Bates

Jordan Bates is a writer and perpetually curious autodidact interested in just about everything. He tweets a lot. He questions all the things. He makes rap songs about Nietzsche and Dragonball Z. He dreams of a more compassionate, cooperative, free global community in which every human being's basic needs are met and in which all sentient beings are respected. Lately, he's primarily interested in how we can prevent humanity from decimating itself and the rest of the biosphere. Befriend him and/or get his latest essays emailed to you sometimes, if you like. Amor fati, humans.


10 Responses to “The Simple, Powerful Guide to Forming Any New Habit”

  1. Carley Rose

    Great stuff Jordan!

    You know, this trigered so many ideas in my head of what I would love to start doing. I read books, yeah, but find myself starring at the same book for weeks and wondering when I’ll ever finish it…taking thirty minutes a night or every other night to just veg out and read my book would help me build my collection which has slowed down considerably. Being reminded to take things step by step and not to get discourage only days after is always an important reminder that I find myself pushing aside to get to the finish line. It’s the journey that changes us the most, not the instant gratification.
    Wise words. I can feel your passion, which makes reading your blog so great and motivational. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Profile photo of Jordan Bates

      Jordan Bates

      I’m really glad you found the post to be helpful and inspirational, Carley! I definitely poured my passion into this one, so I really appreciate the positive feedback. I’m happy you’re enjoying my writing. I hope you keep tuning in!

      Reply
  2. Alice

    What do we do if our trigger will change over time? For instance, I plan on going to the gym immediately after I drop my son at the bus stop. In June, well, no more dropping at the bus stop. I’m assuming it’s safe to change the trigger as necessary… Is this correct? I’m sure changing it too much would make it ineffective, but for now, the only thing I have set in place that occurs every morning is the bus stop and brushing my teeth/getting dressed before that etc.

    I wish I had more habits/a consistent schedule in place so that I could identify “triggers” more easily! :) (I’m on my way to becoming a teacher, but summer break has just begun, for me, and my schedule is very inconsistent at the moment.)

    Thanks for any and all advice. Your blog is AWESOME.

    Reply
    • Jordan Bates

      Alice,

      Thanks for the comment! Having a consistent schedule makes it easier to set up effective triggers, but it isn’t necessary. Changing triggers as-needed is absolutely what you should do. And, if you’re having a hard time setting triggers in place, don’t sweat them too much. Triggers are nice and make it easier to develop a habit, but dedication and discipline are really the two key ingredients to sticking with something, in my experience.

      I would try to get in a daily workout (even just a small one) for several weeks in a row. Once you do that, you reach a point where the day simply feels incomplete without a workout, and it becomes as natural and intuitive to head to the gym as picking up your toothbrush in the morning. I hope this helped. Best of luck to you, and I’m glad you’re liking the blog. :)

      Reply
  3. Rossen

    The first step to habit change and in fact to any personal transformation, is motivation strong enough to overcome inertia. The proper incentive might come in almost any form and there are even quite unconventional approaches such as the one described at http://www.pay4habit.com which uses the notion of “do not miss go get the benefit of what you paid for” :)

    Reply
  4. Andrea

    Wow Jordan, thank you very much for this blog!

    I’m about to changing some habits (or introducing new ones!) and this is exactly the kind of boost I needed. I am always impressed how this kind of inspirational writing comes to me in the moments where I need it most. I realize that every now and then I come in my life to some “turning points”, it’s like a clock that strikes the Get- Out- of- your- Comfort- Zone Hour. Often I need a little push to be able to leap and punctually there it is a blog, a book, a person who inspires me and allowes me to move to the next level. So, last week my commitment to go to the gym early in the morning before i go to work started. I’m gonna get back to you in 56 days ;-)

    Many blessings and thank you very much!

    Andrea from Berlin

    Reply
    • Jordan Bates

      Andrea,

      You’re very welcome! Thanks for the comment. Delighted to hear that this came to you at a time when you could use it. I can relate to what you’re saying about “turning points”. If I am in a routine for too long, I become restless and start to yearn deeply for a change. Do get back to me on your workout habit! That’s a noble effort—I’ve never been an early-morning exerciser. Love sleep too much. :)

      Blessings to you as well and all the best!

      Regards,
      Jordan

      Reply
  5. Candice

    Hi, I stumbled upon your blog while searching for ‘positive reinforcement strategies’. I love the way you write. Thank you for putting up these articles… they really help.

    Reply
  6. Al Taan

    hello. first of all, thank you for sharing all of this! there’s so much on here that i feel but cannot quite put into words, at least not as eloquently as you do. so yes, thank you.

    i do have one question though, regarding this article: if there are multiple habits i want to take up (and simultaneously, take down), should i approach them one at a time, and let each one grow, then move on to the next one? For example, let’s say a regular yoga practice every morning is one goal, regular bass guitar practice is another, and practcing lucid dreaming techniques a third (and there are many more..). Should i focus on one at a time, or work on each one very slowly? I guess it must depend on the individual habits and that it would be quite useful to take up (inter)related habits simultaneously; for example: yoga is a part of my morning routine, which i would love to start around 5-6 am, so i should combine this habit of striving to wake early, to start early, with the habit od striving to get to bed early, and all the other related habits. But this already seems too overwhelming..

    Reply
  7. Shirley

    Thanks for the writing. I am working on a book myself. I have been reading many books in the last 2 years. I really do think learning is most important and in my field which is wellness there are always more to learn and ways of changing teaching exercise. I am looking forward to reading more in my e-mails. I have been an early moring exerciser a few years now and I know how important it is to have that habit. I have been working out all my life and love it. It is really great to see so many people better through exercise. One of the highlights of my life was meeting Jack LaLane at age 92 and he was still amazing and did a little preaching to us about lifestyle.

    Reply

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